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“The Persian army entered the plain of Xanthos under the command of Harpagos and did battle with the Xanthians. The , Xanthians fought with small numbers against the superior Persian forces with a legendary bravery. They resisted the endless Persian forces with great courage but were finally beaten and forced to retreat within the walls of their city. They gathered their womenfolk, children, slaves and treasures into the fortress. This was then set on fire from below and around the walls, until all was destroyed by the conflagration. The warriors of Xanthos made their final attack on the Persians, their voices raised in their battle cries, until every last man from Xanthos was killed”
Only the Xanthians who happened to be in other places at the time were spared and it was they who returned at a later date to re-establish the city. After reading this passage from Heredotus of Halicarnassos, we learn that Xanthos existed during the 6th century B.C. Again, the sources tell us that the Lycians took part in the Trojan wars commanded by Sarpedon of Xanthi, hence we also know that it existed in 1200 B.C. However this hapless though magnificent city was completely bummed down between 475 and 450 B.C. During excavations, this was confirmed by the thick layer of ash covering the site.
In 429 B.C., the whole of Lycia united against their governor-commander Melesandros, who wanted to impose new taxes on them. Xanthos fell into the Ptolemaians came to power in 309 B.C. Later the Syrian monarch Antiochos III ruled in Xanthos. During this period, the city flourished.
Xanthos was the capital of the Lycian Federacy during the 2nd century B.C. and during the Roman period, in 42 B.C.,.thecity, which had seen so many invasions and great tragedies fell into the hands of the Roman Brutus. He demolished the Lycian acropolis and slaughtered the inhabitants of Xanthos. One year later, Marcus Antonius, hoping to heal the scars left by Brutus, extended the hand of peace and aid to the Xanthians, and he had the city re-built. The Roman emperor Vespasian seems to have treated the city with care, for a monumental portal in his name was erected in Xanthos. During the Byzantine period, the city became the seat of an archbishopric but it was deserted upon the first attacks by the Arabs. Xanthos was discovered in 1838 by C. Fellows who had all the reliefs and archaeological finds of interest transported to London on a warship from Patara. Many works of art from this site are now on display in the Lycian rooms of the British Museum. The excavations which have been underway since 1950 were undertaken by the French. Begun by Dr. Pierre Demarsne they were later taken over by Prof.
Henri Metzger and are currently under the direction of Prof. C.Le Roy. Let us now visit the city of Xanthos, which dominates the green plain now watered by the Esen (Xanthos) River, as if proud of its place in history , and saying “How splendid a city I once was”. Xanthos is on the border between the regions of Mu?la and Antalya, a natural boundary created by the Esen River. It is situated near the village of Kynyk, on the road from Fethiye to Ka?. One reaches the site of Xanthos by ascending the slope near the village of Kynyk. On the plan, on the left as one ascends, is the gateway to the city built during the Hellenistic period. A little further on are the ruins of the Portal of Vespasian, built, as we mentioned earlier, in commemoration of the emperor, who reigned between 69-79 AD. On the right are the remains of the base of the magnificent monument of the Nereids, which was carted off in sections to London. This structure, which dated to 400 B.C., was in the form of a temple.
Placed on a high podium, it bore two series of reliefs depicting scenes of warfare. Above the reliefs ran architectural ornamentation and an architrave supported on four columns. Friezes with scenes from everyday life decorate this architrave. Between the columns were situated the statues of the three nereids after which the temple was named. The Hellenistic walls encircle the city of Xanthos and are reinforced by towers added at various periods. The eastern flank of the battlements dates from the 4th century.
In place of the present theater stood the Lycian acropolis. Opposite this is situated the Roman acropolis. Let’s look at the Lycian acropolis, on the site of the Roman theater.The Lycian monumental tomb is situated opposite the theater. Now let’s enter the theater. As can be seen, it bears the characteristics of the Roman period. Near it stand three splendid monuments. One of these dates from the 1st century AD. and is a Roman columned tomb; the second monument is a Lycian columned tomb, which is set on a high base, has a total height of 8.59m., and was constructed in the 4th century B.C. During excavations, the relief of a wrestler which dated from a period prior to the building of the monument was uncovered on this tomb. The third monument is the famous Harpies tomb. The whole monument measuring 8.87 meters, has a base 5.43 meters in height. It was adorned with reliefs showing a dynast and his wife recieving homage from sirens. Since the original panels were removed to the British Museum, we can now only view the plaster casts in their place.
To the rear of these monuments is the agora dating .from the Roman period. On the comer facing the tombs is the Byzantine basilica. Behind the agora is situated a monument bearing inscriptions in the Greek and Lycian scripts. In both inscriptions is expressed the struggle for freedom against the Athenians during the Peloponesian Wars.
Now to visit the theater, from the upper galleries of which one reaches the acropolis. Next to the theater is a Lycian columned tomb. This monument, 4,35 meters in height, was built during the 4th century B.C., and was removed to its present site during the erection of the theater in the Roman period. The building shown as is the remains of the Byzantine church and we see the remains of a Lycian palace. A little ahead is a Lycian pool hollowed out of the rock. The royal terrace situated at the furthest point of the Lycian acropolis overlooks the entire plain. From here we can observe, as once did the monarchs of Xanthos, the beauty of the surroundings and the hill sloping downwards towards the river valley. This completes our tour of the Lycian acropolis.
As we mentioned earlier, opposite this is the Roman acropolis, which houses the Byzantine basilica. On the south-eastern edge of the acropolis many rock tombs and monumental tombs are also situated. The Lycian monumental tomb was built from dressed stone during the 4th century B.C. It has three steps leading to the burial chamber, the floor of which is faced with marble.
The facade, constructed in the Ionian order, has a height of 6.39 meters. A little further on is the site of the Payava tomb, which dates from the 4th century B.C. It was transported in entirety to London. The lion tomb is situated lower down near a corner of the battlements. The statue of the lion from this tomb, which dates to the 6th century, was removed to the British Museum, leaving only the base in situ. There is also a monumental tomb and the remains of a basilican , church of the Byzantine period.